Where do grumpy faces come from?

This is a face I loved and trusted.

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Look at that flat-top! It’s perfect. The black-and-white doesn’t capture the glint of his pale steel-blue eyes. I wonder what Dad was thinking when that picture was taken? I wonder what the photographer was thinking with that glower aimed at him…

This wasn’t an especially grumpy face for my dad. It was pretty normal – it was stuck that way. Ultimately, it became comic relief for the family. I think my brother Ted coined the nickname Mr. Sunshine for this face.

Dad hated being called that. In hindsight I understand it’s because he thought it was mean. It was. We probably should have smothered him with patient love and kindness instead of making fun of him, to help him heal over whatever emotional scar tissue was making his brow do that. But my mom never taught us that trick.

I have a picture of Dad when he was little, with his childhood dog.

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He doesn’t look grumpy yet. He looks pleased and joyful, as most little children naturally do. Especially around good dogs. I wish I had known him then. He looks like he’d be good for a big tickle.

Sometimes pieces of Dad’s younger, joyful self escaped through the mask. When I was a kid, he used to play swing standards on his organ and I’d stand next to him, singing along from the sheet music. These were cheerful and connected moments, emotionally intertwining my love for my father with my love of music in ways that continue to surprise me.

One of our favorites was a Cole Porter classic, “My heart belongs to daddy.” I thought my daddy just liked the tune. We weren’t a family where loving things were often said directly, only mean things. So Dad never spoke the words to tell me what I now know is obvious, that it was just a delight to have his little girl serenading him with the lyrics (without the sugar-daddy implications, which I didn’t even perceive back when).

I always wonder if I’ve developed the same grumpy face as Dad yet, but it’s hard to see myself objectively. I do have a good furrow right between my eyes. I don’t like it, but I don’t think even Botox could obliterate it. Making Michelle Bachmann eyes does the trick, but seriously, that’s just not a solution I can live with. I was already working on a grumpy look at 5 or 6, when this picture was taken. No furrows yet, but I spy a scary cross-eyed intensity in that stare.

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I don’t want to wear a grumpy mask when I grow up. I’ll keep working on it, and in the meantime here’s one for my dad, sung by one of his favorite Hollywood ladies.

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